429. Fartichoke Soup

Image result for artichoke pictures

It wasn’t last Christmas, so maybe two Christmases ago my New York City sophisticate daughter Erin was home for the holidays and was sharing some of her nifty NYC recipes. The first one was awesome. I believe it consisted of pan fried kale with sliced radishes and pumpkin seeds drizzled in lemon juice.  Perhaps I’m skipping bacon or some other delicious element. Anyway, it was delightfully tasty. For that matter so was the second dish she made for us.

It was Christmas Eve, as I recall. She was cooking down fresh artichokes, something my family never ate unless you count pickled artichoke hearts on a salad. There’s some yum yum eating. I don’t recall the other components, just that the end product resembled salsa verde or a thin split pea soup. Oh, it was tasty alright. As we sipped and sampled the soup, Erin offered this caveat:  “Some folks have gas reactions to this soup.”  We reassured her that we’d be fine. We were going to Christmas Eve worship service after this early supper. Certainly we would not fart in the house of God. As the old Chinese fortune cookie joke goes, “Man who fart in church sit in own pew.”

“Oh that is so good. I’ll have another bowl.” All of us approved highly of this high octane flatulence rocket fuel and, tragically as we were to learn later on, ate it up with smiles on our faces and soup spoons in our mouths. Not much time went by  before the artichoke soup began doing its malevolent magic.

Toot.”

Ripppppp.”

Snort.

Kaflump!

Purrrrkup.

Flubbbbbbbrrrrrrr.

Strangely, the entire Old Mcdonald’s Farm cast showed up in full throat– “Here a pig, there a goat in a cart; here a cow, there a horse. Fart, fart fart.” The resonance was amazingly melodious and slightly psychedelic, as if we had all taken LSD for dinner or hit the bong hard. Each toot was funnier than the last. We all regressed to being children on some level, fascinated with flatulent bubbles in the bathtub, laughing like stoned orangutans high on fermented mangoes. It was a bizarre predicament, a pickle barrel moment, as we considered, “Toot, toot, toot,” that we had to go to an hour’s service at church. How was that going to work?

Fortunately, fartichokes are all bark and no bite, so there was no scent trail, just burps of varying length, strength, timber, and melody. Perhaps fartichokes could have been the earliest form of cave man music. I imagined happy cave dweller families lounging around after a bowl or two, humming and then singing something like Sam Cooke’s “Working on the Chain Gang

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232. My Personal Paint-by-Number Vietnam

So my daughter reminded me of a dark episode in my life when I was stuck with the endless paint job from hell. It was 1993, I think. Back in those days I painted houses over the summers when I was “off” from my teaching job. I had a full schedule that summer, but I received a desperate phone call from a woman I used to work with who was moving back to Turtle Town after years in Florida. You see, I had painted her last house in this area and it met with her expectations, so naturally I had to paint the local home she had just purchased. I made minor excuses on the phone why I could not possibly take on her job… the summer was nearly over, I did not have the man power, I was already tired, etc. She  pleaded. I relented. I took ownership of her imaginary problem. Never, bloggy wogs, never take ownership of others’ problems. Why? Because their problem becomes your problem times ten, and you wind up like the U.S. did in Vietnam, fighting someone else’s unwinnable battle with no dignified way out. Oh, and covered in pigeon crap from head to toe.

I believe the draft call came in August. Ellen charmed as much as she could. Could I at least come and give an estimate? My paint partner knew intuitively that nothing good could possibly come from this. He warned me. I ignored him. God bless him, he came along on the estimate to try and keep me from disaster, though he clearly stated he was opposed to the idea. Here’s the thing: the house was just fine. It was in move in shape, but the homeowners did not want the country style paint and wallpaper choices. They wanted a stark white on white theme throughout the large cape cod. The antique white paint could not remain, nor could the perfectly matched wall paper. Instead she needed a CoCo Chanel look throughout, and I was too stupid to pump my brakes, downshift and park. However, to justify myself a bit, I had only experienced success within my ten years or so of contract painting. I generally enjoyed the process and could not foresee this thing happening to me…ala the Stones “Paint it Black” song. Only my ode would be “Paint it White”. “I see an oak door and I want to paint it white. No colors anymore, I want them to turn white.”

Okay, after a  safe bid of $2500 to do the inside walls and trim, I called on two other paint crews. I had 10 experienced guys on site for most of a week. We never even got upstairs. The paint we bought at Duron just would not cover anything. Barry came to me with his concern. “Just double coat the wall”, I said. “I did already. It’s not covering.” Gulp. “Okay, give it a third coat.” I knew that the labor was far more expensive than the paint, but the homeowners had picked the brand and the anemic bright white. I was floundering. Little did I know that the flat wall paint was the least of my worries. The next day Roger came to me and said, “The trim paint is not drying.” “Say What?” He demonstrated what he meant. “Look. I painted this trim three days ago.” He ran his finger across the windowsill and the shiny paint rolled up into a ball. “Oh no!!” I’d never seen such a thing. I felt panic surge in my stomach. “Wha, wha, wha…” I could not make complete words. My neocortex was shutting down.

I was out of money budgeted to pay my crew. I thanked them and paid them for time in. My partner and I were staring at half a job ahead of us and a completely unfinished story behind us. I was angry at the paint store. I knew something serious was wrong with their paint and I went in on Monday a.m. to make my demands and threats. The regular paint store guys admitted that something was wrong with their paint. It should have covered and hardened but obviously did not. They asked me what I needed. I told them $1500 for the wasted labor, and replacement paint. They nodded and seemed  to agree with my demands. Unfortunately the next day the owner of the store dismissed all my concerns, claiming that the problem was on my side. He made the preposterous charge that I had failed to prep the surfaces and some mystery oil was preventing his paint from adhering to my walls.  Wow, I knew I was completely screwed. I had already paid out more than half of the bid for maybe a quarter of the work done. I had  a lying paint company owner in front of me and angry homeowners behind me. Plus my prophetic and pissed off paint partner was beside me. What a quagmire, a tropical swamp, a… Vietnam of painting.

Well, there it was. I had no way out but to work my way out. My partner stayed as long as he could stomach the drama as Ellen moaned and her husband kvetched. The paint store folks suggested that I use a paint hardener to firm up the bubble gum paint that lacked hardener to begin with. They could not see the irony in their retrofit. I fumed and so did the highly volatile solution. Then I had to use oil based paint on top of the hardener to guarantee results. Had we simply used the right paint to begin with, I would not have this heart ache to report to you now. Meanwhile the cranky homeowner complained of the fumes from the oil based paint while he watched the Dow Jones rise and fall daily, coughing himself into fits of asphyxiation. Ellen tried to appease him and seemed to get a measure of reassurance from my endless presence. I worked evenings, weekends and holidays well into the late fall of that year to expiate myself from my Vietnama drama. In the end I had a personal testimony of pain and suffering that rivaled Mick Jagger’s.  “I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes, I turn my head away until my darkness goes.” I wanna see it painted, painted, painted white. Oh the horror!

222. Impaled

Somewhere between the poison toothpick and the

Cold steel heart knife

You were impaled on the wooden spike

Of secret shame

 

It’s a shame you couldn’t wriggle off

Nor touch your feet to walk

Without the spike splitting you in two

 

To talk with someone

Would kill you suddenly

So you chose the quiet death of slowly choking

Slowly choking back the truth…

The names and horrors ached

Like a broken tooth

unmedicated

 

Unmedicated? Not true, alcohol soothed

The terrible nightmares and helped

To vaporize the horrible stares

The horrible stairs led in a spiral dread

Downward to destruction

as toxic termites

Quietly fed

on your soul’s timbers

 

Timber!   Down it all came one day

Lumberjack worms won

And you stood

in shock and dismay

 

[Before a worn out mirror– unable to look or look away]

In shock and dismay you began

Unable to see or hear

The horrible eyes and syllables

of those days

Those dazes of dissociation

When a tiny dancer had to hide

When werewolves razed her village

 

Her village where wolves today graze like sheep

Now perplexes wary witnesses

How could these sheepish wolves be predators?

 

Predators prey on those who pray in vain

Whose veins are broken by angry jaws

that gnaw their victims on wooden stakes

 

With wooden stakes the shepherds watch their flocks

Of wolfsheep in green pastures

“My sheep know me and I my sheep”

“And I know they will attack me

If I don’t play along”

Say the shepherds impaled on wooden stakes.

 

Somewhere between the poisoned toothpick

and the cold steel heart knife.